A group of lakes located near Unity are being renamed to honour the Cree women who lost their lives at the site in a 19th-century massacre.
The province formally approved changing the previously offensive name Killsquaw Lake to Kikiskitotawânawak Iskwêwak Sâkahikan Lakes, a Cree name which translates to “We Remember the Women."
Kellie Wuttunee, a lawyer from Red Pheasant First Nation, has worked towards the renaming for the past year.
"We must recognize that to properly respect and honour Indigenous women, we can no longer have denigrating geographical names in Saskatchewan or Canada," Wuttunee said at a formal ceremony in North Battleford Tuesday to recognize the occasion. "Even if unintentional, the previous name was harmful, and undermined the pride and self-esteem of Indigenous people."
By changing the name, it will also help give a voice to those who have been silenced, she said.
"Words are powerful; names are powerful. They inform our identity, and with actions like these, we are reminding each other and telling the world that we can learn from our mistakes, and move forward together."
She first pushed for the change after discovering the name while driving through the area in 2017. She found the lake was given the name through an oral narrative detailing a massacre of Cree women by the Black Feet in the 1800s.
"I thought we needed to follow protocol and ceremony before attempting to change the name," Wuttunee said. "I went for guidance from my Elders and the name that was brought forward was 'We Remember the Women', which better reflects our history without forgetting the story of the women."
Maps will be updated to reflect the new name.
In the spring, there will be a formal naming ceremony at the lake with representatives from surrounding municipalities.
Her mother Elise recalled her daughter coming home one day in the fall of 2017 and telling her of the findings.
"It left her with a really bad feeling," she said. "It might have been acceptable back then, but it is not acceptable now to be calling our women squaws. It is just a derogatory name."
Chief Sylvia Wennie of the Stoney Knoll was on hand for the formal ceremony Tuesday in North Battleford. She said the name change will be important for future First Nations children to learn of their history in a positive light. Wennie was one of the Elders consulted on the renaming and was proud to see the project spearheaded by women.
"As caregivers and providers of our nation, we are the backbone of our nations and I think it was truly amazing to have the women come together and keep it going," she said.
On Twitter: @battlefordsNOW
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